Friday, January 24, 2003
A change comes to Church Street
one way through town center
As you drive westbound on Bedford Road approaching the town center, the two signs that flank the entrance to Church Street are hard to overlook: Do Not Enter.
For some people, this represents an inconvenient change, requiring them to detour all the way through the center to get to the school or the ballfield. For others, it's a soothing sight, reassuring them that one of Carlisle's busiest roadways is now a little bit safer, especially for the dozens of children who set foot on it daily. As of last September 1, the road was closed to westbound traffic, and agreement is widespread that the change greatly improves the safety of all who use the street.
Despite its quiet, rural appearance, Church Street is in fact one of the town's most heavily used byways. Along one short stretch of road are the side entrance to the First Religious Society (home to a nursery school during the week), Carlisle Village Court ( a small housing complex for elderly residents), three private homes, the town's most frequently used playing field, a toddler playground and the main entrance to the Carlisle Public School.
Police Chief David Galvin explains the reasoning behind the decision to make Church Street one way. "For the past several years, we've had a growing problem with traffic and safety on that street," he says. "Parents dropping off and picking up their kids at the school parked on both sides of the street, often at the same time that buses were trying to get through. Children would run between the cars. During a winter like this one, with snowbanks making the street narrower, the problem was much worse."
For the past two years, the police department implemented a partially successful solution by making the street one way during the winter months only. Although in some regards this made the road safer, the temporary nature of the solution was a problem in itself, Galvin says. "It would take a month or so just to get people's behavior conditioned not to drive westward. Making the street officially one way but having a lot of drivers not realize it made things even more dangerous. So after further discussions with school authorities, I requested approval from the board of selectmen to change it to a one way street for a full year. At the end of one year, the selectmen will revisit the question and consider making the change permanent."
Craig and Gail McLeod, parents of two eighth graders, admit that the plan has caused them some frustration. "If you pick up your child after a sports event at Spalding Field and the kid has left his backpack in his locker, you have to go all the way down to Bedford Road, take a left
Traffic jams are now a regular occurence on Bedford Road, especially during the afternoon commute. Westbound cars that used to use Church Street to avoid driving through the town center now have no choice, and the increased number of cars often causes a back-up, sometimes extending as far back as Stearns Street. Bedford Road resident Penny Zezima notes that "rush hour has really come to Carlisle. I have to plan my afternoon schedule around the back-up, because it can be difficult getting in and out of my driveway."
Smaller traffic backups occur daily just after school ends, when all eight buses head down Church Street in a caravan, along with dozens of cars which have picked up individual students. It's a regular event that Gail Fitzpatrick has a front window on — literally. She lives at the junction of Church Street and Bedford Road and can watch the traffic line up parallel to her back yard. Nonetheless, she applauds the police department's decision. "It seems like they've solved a lot of problems at once," she says. "When the traffic was two way, it felt really chaotic. Now there might be lots of cars, but it seems much calmer, because they're all doing the same thing."
Molly Sorrows stops along Church Street several times a week to pick up her two seven-year-old daughters after school. She concedes that the one way direction can be slightly inconvenient for parents, but thinks that the safety factor unquestionably compensates for the delay. "It might take a little longer to get places now, but you get used to planning for it," she says. "If I'm in a hurry when I pick up the girls, I avoid Church Street altogether and park on School Street. The girls can walk on the footpath [that runs along Church and Schol Streets] to the car without ever having to enter the roadway. The path combined with the one way plan makes it feel like a much safer street," Sorrows says.
Residents of Carlisle Village Court say that they don't mind the inconvenience of living on a one way street. "Having to circle through the center doesn't bother me," says Ruth Pickard. Next door to Carlisle Village Court lives Nancy DiRimualdo, who concurs that the street has a much safer dynamic when all the cars are coming from the same direction. "My only real concern is the congestion when school lets out, and what would happen if emergency vehicles needed to get through at that time," she says. Newly-appointed fire chief David Flannery responds by saying that he feels confident about emergency access systems in place. He explains that there is one emergency access road on School Street leading to the center of the campus and another near the tennis courts on Church Street to access the lower part of the campus. "The police frequently check that those access roadways are kept clear," he says.
Bob Yanosick, a school bus driver for 13 years, had this to say. "Great, except people are parking where they shouldn't be parking. On Church Street they park too close to corners of driveways. If they could put a cop down on the corner of Church Street and Bedford Road, it would help us to get out on Bedford Road. Sometimes it's a mess down there. At least we don't have to face drivers coming up the hill."
Vehicles and pedestrians share one narrow street
Flannery, who also serves as supervisor of building and grounds at the Carlisle Schools, admits that no solution can fully address the fundamental issue: a very large number of vehicles and people are sharing one narrow street. "Right after school dismissal, you can have a school bus and a delivery truck both trying to get through, with cars parked along the side and people walking in the road," he says. "The one way decision has helped, but we still have a lot of traffic. That's inevitable; the school has 850 students and 120 staff members. When you add in the number of volunteers at the school on any given day, you're likely to have over a thousand people using the campus."
A place where kids went sledding
Gail McLeod remains disappointed that the town had to implement what she considers a big-city solution. But she admits that her views might be a bit biased by nostalgia. Gail and her husband, who have lived here since childhood, both remember a time when Church Street was occasionally closed to traffic altogether. "In the early 1970s, after a snowstorm, the police used to close off the road at both ends and leave it unplowed for kids to go sledding," she reminisces. "We'd spend entire days sledding from the school driveway down past Spalding Field. All the parents would stand together at the top of the hill and visit with each other. It was probably the biggest gathering place the town has ever had."
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